Bridgetown's problems unique: minister
The minister responsible for municipal relations says no other municipality in Nova Scotia is facing the same kind of financial crisis as Bridgetown, where the entire council quit earlier this week over ongoing money problems.
Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations John MacDonell said municipalities are required by law to submit balanced budgets to the province, which means the government "has a really good handle" on the financial health of the province's communities.
He dismissed the suggestion that municipalities are struggling because the province is downloading costs.
"If by downloading they mean we want them to upgrade their water systems and so on, these are all health and safety issues that I don't think any of us — certainly in our government — want to back away from," MacDonell told reporters on Thursday.
"We help them with those projects financially. In Bridgetown the federal government put $1 million, we put $1 million and the town had to put in $1 million. So I disagree."
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the minister is wrong to suggest the financial struggles in Bridgetown represent an isolated case.
"They say it's isolated, but it's not," said McNeil, whose riding includes Bridgetown, the Annapolis Valley community that lost its six-member council earlier this week to a mass resignation prompted by undisclosed financial problems and an RCMP investigation into a possible theft.
He said mayors and wardens from across the province are telling him they are facing similar problems and the NDP government is ignoring their pleas for help. He said many municipalities are finding it difficult to meet basic requirements for water and sewer services.
Crisis is 'across municipalities': McNeil
"Bridgetown has become a crisis at the moment, but this is across municipalities. The government is still ignoring the fact that this is a problem from one end of Nova Scotia to the other.… For the province to say there are not other municipalities facing this difficulty simply proves that they do not understand the magnitude of this problem."
David Corkum, the mayor of Kentville and the town caucus chair of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, said he figures at least three other towns are in financial trouble.
"The towns are being the first ones like Canso, Bridgetown," he said.
"Unfortunately, I don't want to doom and gloom but there's other ones probably around the corner."
Don Downe, the mayor for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, said he also believes other municipalities are in trouble.
"I think it is the tip of the iceberg and here, what's happened just this week is another example."
But MacDonell said he's not aware of any other municipalities on the brink.
"They have to submit their budgets and their financials to us. Under law they're not allowed to budget for a deficit so we would really have a good handle I think on where they are that way," he said.
The minister said he may order a forensic audit of Bridgetown's finances. The RCMP is also investigating a possible theft from town hall.
With files from The Canadian Press